Thoughts on the Biblical Basis of Friends' Testimony on Equality
Originally prepared 15 February 1999 by Susan Jeffers for Clear Creek Monthly Meeting
1. I suppose this is obvious, but the Bible isn't primarily about Friends' testimonies. I think of the testimonies as being like "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-23), outward manifestations or evidence that we are living in the Light of Christ.
2. In the King James Version (the most useful readily-available translation of the Bible for getting at the biblical language woven into the writings of early Friends) "testimony" translates the Greek martureo or marturion or marturia, literally witness or bear witness, from which our English word "martyr" also comes. To give testimony was to bear witness to what one knew, and possibly suffer for it. So for example we read in John 1:6-7 "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness (marturia), to bear witness (martureo) of the Light, that all men through him might believe." The patterns of behavior that we today call "the testimonies" are part of our appearing as witnesses to the way of truth and life of God's kingdom. Our actions are to speak in addition to our words.
3. The only place in the KJV that the word "equality" appears is 2 Cor 8:14, in which Paul is encouraging the church at Corinth to be generous in sharing its material resources with needy Jerusalem Christians: "But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality."
4. This sense of equality in terms of material things is also reflected in Matthew 20:12, the parable of the people who worked all day and yet received the same wage as those who worked only a little. The ones who worked all day complained, "Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day." As indeed we are all equal in God's vineyard, all being rewarded equally by God.
5. In Phil 2:5-8 we read "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." From this we can see the true inequality: God is above people; Jesus became one of us, hence "less than" God. Or as we read in Col 4:1, "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal ; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven." This last is paradoxical -- the Greek root of the word translated "equal" is "iso" as in "isosceles" triangle, one with two equal sides. Could the author of Colossians be saying for the human master to make his servant equal to himself, or is he reinforcing the inequality between them? The RSV reads "treat your slaves justly and fairly."
6. It seems to me that the Bible's overall "take" on equality is that all people are equal before God, and equally "unequal" compared to God. We have no business treating one another as "less than," and if we do, we should expect to suffer the consequences from the One who is greater than any of us or all of us. This seems to apply to any dimension along which humans develop a sense of superiority to one another, whether ethnicity, religion, gender, social class, etc. So many of the gospel stories revolve around the humanly-privileged party being shown less worthy than the humanly-disadvantaged.
7. Those who are "in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" are those who can fully experience true equality. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made [us] free fromt he law of sin and death." (Rom 8:1-2) The "body of Christ" (Rom 12) is a beautiful picture of this synergistic coexistence in one organic whole, in which no human is "better than" another. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. For there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:27-28). "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond (doulos) or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13).
8. One of the most pervasive forms of outward human inequality in biblical times was slavery, or servanthood (neither the Hebrew ebed nor the Greek doulos distinguishes between the two). "The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant (doulos) above his lord" (Matt 10:24). But Jesus told his disciples, "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your doulos, even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt 10:27-28). An important aspect of the gospel is that we are to assume the role of doulos to one another, and all become douloi of God. Paul says, "Art thou called being a doulos? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a doulos, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's doulos" (1 Cor 7:21-22).
9. On equality of the sexes, Genesis 1:27 has male and female people equally created in God's image. While Gen 2 has Eve created as a "help meet" (ezer) for Adam, this implies no inferiority. In Ex 18:4 God is described as the ezer of Israel in delivering "from the sword of Pharaoh;" similarly in Deut 33:7, 26, 29; Psalm 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11 and many others. Overall, it is the Lord who is the ezer of Israel or of individual people in need of deliverance. If anything, Eve being called Adam's ezer would seem to imply that she is a powerful person without whose help Adam would be hopeless and helpless before unspecified adversaries.
10. It seems to me that the fundamental awareness behind Friends' testimony of equality is that of coming into our true equality before God; to go along with humanly-devised inequalities would be to fail in our testimony to the present and future reality of God's rule.